West Ghana/USA – After grading the visiting teams last week, let’s look at the host nations partaking in the Southern Hemisphere Rugby Tour of 2012: How did SANZAR, the Pacific Isles & The Americas grade vs Europe?
South Africa: The Springboks went 2-0-1 against a scrappy England side. Without the amount of time that a new coach would like, Coach Meyer was able to go undefeated but not get the three win whitewashing Bok fans wanted. He got some combinations right, including a very young combo at lock. But he failed to fire up his team for the third test and it seemed like he selected too many players from the Super 15 Bulls, his old province. Has loads of work to do.
New Zealand: Got that 3-0 whitewashing that South Africa didn’t, sending Ireland home beleaguered, to say the least. Hansen’s troops won the first test soundly, squeaked by in the second and destroyed Ireland in the third. Coach Hansen had the best start to a coaching tenure possible as he got to work in new combinations, with the young players performing well while veterans got some needed rest for the upcoming 4 Nations .
Australia: Went undefeated 3-0 against a very game Wales side but lost to Scotland?! in horrible weather, for a combined record of 4-1. They lost the mid-week match against Scotland on a last minute PK in so much wind and rain, you’d have sworn you were in Edinburgh. They did beat Wales in 3 straight games by a combined total of 6 points but while winning is winning, at no time did they look dominant or able to impose their will. If some bounces or calls had gone for Wales, it could have Wales going undefeated in the series.
USA: A disappointing 1-2 against Canada, Georgia and Italy. A lack of practice time and some poor ball handling let the USA down against Canada as they came oh-so-close to winning one that went down to the wire. Credit the Canadians… Against a fairly second-choice Georgia side, the USA solved it handling issues and impressed against an over-matched side… The Italy game was the most disappointing, due to mental errors and poor decision-making, compounded by the two red cards that never allowed the Eagles to attack in the second half.
Argentina: Split the series against France 1-1 and lost the match against Italy. Argentina for this test series had to rest all their France-based players as part of a deal the French Rugby clubs. The clubs demanded that their investments get proper rest before the start of the French club season, so Argentina had to rest players either for the tours or the 4 Nations. With a relatively inexperienced and home-based side they fought admirably against Italy, stole a big victory against France in the first test before being soundly beaten by Les Bleus in the third test. With their first-choice players back for the 4 Nations, they benefited by using the tour to develop depth.
Canada: Went a disappointing 2-1 against USA, Georgia and Italy. It was disappointing because after out-fighting the USA, they underwhelmed against Italy in a match they should have won and beat-up on a young Georgia team. The failed to win the Statement Game, so it is tough to gauge progress.
Fiji & Samoa: Competitive but win-less (0-3) in their matches against Scotland. Considering how neither side really ever have their first-choice team, since so many are in France and have inflexible club contracts, they performed well. Fiji played well but the pro fitness of the Scots allowed them to win despite the incredible heat… In Samoa, a controversial call robbed Samoa of a victory in the second test after Scotland did just enough in the first test. It was good that loads of home-based players got a chance to showcase their talents – more will go pro. Hopefully they’ll get more flexible contracts.